Written by Mark Halyday
Christopher Reeve is undeniably iconic in his 1979 classic, and Henry Cavill is the current big-budget Last Son of Krypton, but Smallville‘s Tom Welling is the definitive Superman for a whole generation of fans.
There have been others – Dean Cain from Lois & Clark, Tyler Hoechlin’s guest spots on Supergirl and Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns all are fine examples, but none were afforded the time to dive into the soul of the original superhero as much as “Supa-Star” Tom Welling. Superman has been in comics for eighty years, and a plethora of events have built him into the character he is now. Smallville took the time to get this characterisation right.
From the very basic high school roots of the show, with disposable villains-of-the-week and collect-’em-all McGuffins, Clark Kent dipped his toe into saving people because he could and because it was the right thing to do. As Kryptonian mythology became a more prominent storytelling device in the show, the Kansas kid was pulled further away from the normal life he knew, and between his relationship with Lex Luthor (another April “Supa-Star” guest, Michael Rosenbaum!), and everyday Super-manning, trouble just kept knocking on Clark’s door, but he always answered the call.
As the series went on, long-term villains other than Lex were brought into play, and Clark learnt not every villain went down so easily. The showrunners mined the best of the best – from Brainiac to Doomsday to Zod, even Darkseid! – all within the trappings of a prequel series.
It helps that the casting was impeccable. Welling was nowhere near the clumsy calamity Clark from the comics, but why would he be? As any Superman fan will tell you, the thing that sets him apart from Batman or Spiderman is that Clark Kent is the alter-ego, rather than the costumed hero. Superman is the status quo and Smallville shows not only the evolution to the hero with the “S” on his chest but also the creation of the meek cover story. Those understandings make the show shine to this day.
Big character moments – like deaths or betrayals or love – were Smallville‘s strengths. It knew it was a teen show and it played into it, but it was always Superman through and through. It always adapted, too. The character of Lex existed on an island for the show’s earliest episodes and was treading water till the magnificent John Glover joined the cast as Lex’s father. He was a good contrast to Rosenbaum’s younger Luthor, and in many ways, he shaped Lex into the man he would become. Lionel’s presence also allowed the Luthors to more neatly parallel the Kents, so Lex could hold up a mirror to Clark.
As the series grew, Superman met Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, a Flash-type called Impulse, Black Canary, Hawkman, and the rest of the Justice Society of America. He found his cousin, Kara, and trained her to be Supergirl, and assumed a role at the Daily Planet. The DC Watchtower looked over Metropolis and every hero worthy of their stripes came to call it home.
And the finale was perfect. A wonderful encapsulation of the series filled with big character moments. Superman is born when Clark Kent turns from a boy to a man, which could have been any number of milestones from graduation to simply putting on the historic costume. The wedding of Clark and Lois (and the arrival of Earth’s biggest threat with it) was the perfect moment to assume the identity of Superman.
All of these things couldn’t have happened without the singular pillar from pilot to finale, Tom Welling. As the Arrowverse soars (born out of love for Smallville‘s Green Arrow) dreams that Smallville’s Superman would cross over with Star City’s vigilante still persist.
Either way, ten awesome and entertaining seasons of history’s most popular superhero remain for repeat viewing. While Spidermans and Batmen may come and go, no harm, no foul, Tom Welling is, and always will be, our Superman.
You can catch Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Melbourne (21-22 April) and Gold Coast (28-29 April).